Rambi and Qamea

I am currently writing while underway from Monuriki Island, where the movie Castaway was filmed, back to Malolo Lailai. In addition to Max, my sister Julie and her husband Silas are visiting this week so Sophie is a full and happy boat.

Over the last couple weeks we cruised northern Fiji and experienced village life. Our first stop was Rambi Island, inhabited by descendants of people from Kiribati. We stayed a few days in Albert Cove, which had a great beach and beautiful reef. We saw so many fish jumping out of the water. Even the dolphin stopped by to herd their lunch against the inside of the reef.

Albert Cove FJ_20214 (1024x650) FJ_20220 (1024x639)

When we left Rambi, we had a perfect day for sailing to Mitangi, a small uninhabited island off the coast of Taveuni. Snorkeling was fabulous and I managed to remember my underwater camera this time.

Mitangi1 Mitangi2 Mitangi3 Mitangi4

We had hoped to stay overnight at Mitangi, but by the time I finished snorkeling the wind had shifted to the north and rollers were coming through the anchorage. We made a quick late afternoon decision to motor to Qamea before dark. This turned out to be a great call. We dropped the anchor at sunset in a totally protected and calm anchorage. Three other boats there left for the Lau group at first light, so we ended up being the only boat in the bay for four days.

FJ_20233 (1024x683) FJ_20238 (1024x670)

In the morning, we dinghied in to the settlement for a sevu sevu ceremony with Moses, the chief, and met a few other people from the village.

FJ_20232 (1024x673)

The chief and his family welcomed us with open arms into the village and were extremely generous. They have no electricity other than a few solar chargers, and they are still waiting for government money to finish rebuilding from damage sustained in 2009 from Cyclone Mick that destroyed almost every structure on the island. Leo and Hazel had tons of fun playing with all of the kids, dogs and one of the pet pigs that had jumped over the fence of its pig pen and was running loose.

FJ_20278 (1024x683) FJ_20251 (1024x683) FJ_20267 (1024x683) FJ_20266 (1024x683)

We really wanted to watch the opening game of the World Cup but that wasn’t going to happen in the village. It turns out there was a house across the bay owned by an American that had satellite TV, so the village spokesperson invited us to the caretaker’s house to watch the opening game of the World Cup. I baked some muffins to bring along.

FJ_20225 (1024x678)

A few local kids paddled out to Sophie to play with the kids. They loved the trampolines and jumping off the bows. The boys were so excited by our library on board that we ended up with five kids reading books in the fly bridge for a solid hour after lunch.

FJ_20228 (2) (1024x683) FJ_20227 (1024x683) FJ_20229 (1024x680) FJ_20228 (1024x679)

The next day more boys paddled out to Sophie to swim with the kids, but we were in the middle of Sophie School and it was raining, so we asked them to come back in the afternoon. A little while later Jamie went down to our room to straighten up and realized they had been under the boat the whole time, hiding from the pouring rain. Smart kids. We gave them chocolate chip cookies.

IMG_3734 (1024x683)

Moses, the chief, is also the pastor of the village. On Sunday he invited us to church followed by lunch with his family. The kids went to Sunday school and learned hymns in Fijian, which they sang during the service.

Following Moses uphill to church.

Following Moses uphill to church.

Singing during the church service.

Singing during the church service.

Three of Moses' grandsons.

Three of Moses’ grandsons.

Sunday school friends.

Sunday school friends.

What an amazing meal we ate! Here is “Mama” preparing Bele leaves. Every dish was delicious. We think they fished all day Saturday to catch something big enough to host all of us. Their kindness and generosity were overwhelming.

Mama prepares lunch.

Mama prepares lunch.

Sunday dinner with the chief's family.

Sunday dinner at the chief’s house.

Sunday dinner.

Sunday dinner.

Freshly caught waloo head.

Freshly caught waloo head.

Bele, breadfruit, chicken with noodles and fish with vegetables.

Bele with fish, breadfruit, sea grapes with fish, and chicken with noodles.

Sea grapes with octopus.

Sea grapes with octopus.

FJ_20286 (1024x683) FJ_20290 (1024x681)

On our last night, Mama brought the women, all the grandchildren, one of her sons, and the village spokesman to Sophie for a kava party. We made popcorn and drank several bowls full of local grog with them. It tasted slightly better than I remembered, less like dirt and more like pepper.

Making kava.

Making kava.

FJ_20303 (1024x683)

"Kava girl" served low tide, high tide and tsunami pours of grog.

“Kava girl,” as she was nicknamed, served low tide, high tide and tsunami pours of grog.

FJ_20313 (1024x683)

The kids loved eating popcorn and otter pops, and even managed to play a few videogames in my bed.

FJ_20298 (1024x683) FJ_20297 (1024x683)

By Sophie standards this was one memorable party.

FJ_20317 (1024x683)


FJ_20314 (1024x683) FJ_20316 (1024x681) FJ_20327 (1024x674)

We had such a wonderful time and were sad to leave this friendly community. It was one of the most positive experiences we’ve had on our trip and inspired us to invest more time in each village we visit and get to know the families we meet.

Getting a ride to school.

Getting a ride to school.

The chief's family waving goodbye.

The chief’s family waving goodbye.

Villagers waving goodbye from their windows and doorways.

Villagers waving goodbye from their windows and doorways.


Going to work as we depart.

Going to work as we depart.

On our way back to Savusavu we caught a lot of fish. First up, this 18 pound Mahi Mahi:

FJ_20355 (1024x683) FJ_20359 (1024x683) FJ_20360 (1024x683) FJ_20367 (683x1024)

Next we snagged this little barracuda that we let go.

FJ_20371 (646x1024)

We were about to pull in all our lines when we caught back to back Wahoo on our port hand line, 41 and 34 pounds. We gave a big chunk of one plus both carcasses to the local village.

FJ_20377 (683x1024) FJ_20375 (1024x683) FJ_20383 (683x1024) FJ_20386 (683x1024)

Needless to say, our freezer is now completely full.

Wahoo bagged and ready to freeze.

Wahoo bagged and ready to freeze.

Full freezer.

Full freezer.

Post wahoo remains of fishing lure.

What’s left of our lure after Wahoo bites.

After a quick provisioning run to Savusavu, we made a quick crossing along the north shore of Viti Levu and arrived a few days later to Musket Cove on Malolo Lailai, just in time for Julie and Silas’ arrival. So far this week, we’ve paddle boarded, kayaked, swam, snorkeled, caught a huge sailfish and visited Monuriki and Yanuya, but more on this in our next post. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

What a Birthday! (so far …)


It has been almost a week since I returned from the U.S. back to Fiji. There has been a strong easterly blowing all week, which made us a little reluctant to depart the Savusavu area. Also, our friends Misti and Abbie were scheduled to leave on a plane from Savusavu yesterday, so we wound up spending the last 3 days back at anchor off the Cousteau resort.

I shouldn’t complain. We went swimming every day, we deployed the Relaxation Station V2, and we had one of our better dance parties on the eve of Misti and Abbie’s departure. Max, who spent some time on a collegiate swing dancing team, helped Hazel transform her skill at doing a yoga bridge into an outstanding dip.


Hazel then tried to teach Max some advanced moves she learned from the playgrounds of New Zealand, but I think they may still need a little work before Caroline and Alex’s Maine wedding in July.


Meanwhile, Misti stepped in and taught Leo that there are actually more dance moves than simply standing in the middle of the dance floor, karate chopping invisible assailants on either side of you. I often dream of fixing things with someone, but I am really glad Misti stepped in and started the process of fixing Leo’s approach to wedding dances.

IMG_1576In case you are wondering, Leo is completely set for the dancing that will take place AFTER the reception.

But once again, I digress. I had planned to write a post about Sophie’s history of dance parties, a history that goes back six years, a history that even had Hazel asking me yesterday about exactly when we were getting our disco ball. But the events of my birthday, which is taking place today in Fiji, has given me much better things to write about.

Because when Jenna and I woke up this morning, we saw that there was no wind. We had assumed we would be heading west, with the strong easterly wind at our backs, towards a bay called Mbua and then on to the iguana sanctuary of Yadua. Our friends Jeff and Melody made it to Mbua last night, and they said there was nothing there except for a lot of wind and a large number of blue jellyfishes. Jenna and I had wanted to head east to the Lau Group since we arrived in Fiji a month ago, there was no wind this morning, so we looked at each other and said, basically at the same time, “Let’s go east”.

And we did.

It was bouncy for the first hour but then smoothed out as we got inside the lee of Taveuni. We had 3 meat lines out along with the trolling rod, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and then Max and I saw a school of fish going nuts 200 meters a way. We saw one of them destroy one of our lures (goodbye, Cougar, we will miss you) and then a fish hit the lure on the rod. 10 minutes later, we had Sophie’s biggest mahi mahi ever on the boat.


That’s 30 pounds, baby.

What a birthday present! I fileted the fish and was in the process of vacuum sealing it’s chunks when the trolling rod exploded again with another fish hit!

This one was all Max’s. Jenna got some good airborne shots.



We had to use the gaff on both of the fish, and Max’s fish actually pulled the gaff from my hand as it dove under the boat. Good thing our friends on Muk Tuk in Nuku Hiva a year ago taught us to but a rope on the end of the gaff.

FJ_20162FJ_20143But the important thing is that we got Max’s Mahi Mahi into the boat, and we could get the father-son trophy shot.

FJ_20201There was enough room in the freezer to store 28 pounds of filets, and that was after setting 5 pounds aside for my birthday lunch and dinner.


And to think a week ago I was hanging out in Washington DC with friends I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and now I am back in the tropics on the other side of the world surrounded by family and connected with friends, doing what I love. I am wicked lucky.



Eating Stateside


I left Fiji a week ago for a quick trip to the US. The main purpose of my visit was to attend my son Max’s graduation from law school in Boston. It was a great ceremony, and he flew back to Sophie with me today and will spend a month with us on the boat. This will be Max’s second visit with us since we left San Diego last year.

The thing that struck me the most about this particular trip to the US is the quality, price, and sheer volume of food that my fellow Americans eat. Granted, I was there for a week of celebrations and a bit of a homecoming, but for lack of a better word the overall experience was remarkable.


My food trip started last Monday at my parent’s house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. I had completed a simple 3 leg, 28 hour journey to get from Sophie in Savu Savu to Logan Airport in Boston, and it was 3:00 AM by the time I snuck into their guest room and touched my head to a pillow.

I had a quiet morning reconnecting with my parents and ate a Sophie-like breakfast of fruit and toast. But then my brother John swung by with his family on their way back from Cape Cod, and to celebrate my arrival brought with them some takeout lobster rolls. These are considered a New England delicacy, and the ones John brought with him were ENORMOUS. That monster in the photo at the top of the blog is just HALF a lobster roll.

In case you missed it, please let me share it with you again.


Of course I ate it. It was delicious.

Earlier in the day I had gone with my father to a seafood market and bought 8 lobsters along with some clams for steaming. My mom wanted to have some extra food “just in case” anyone happened to drop in. She made a good call, because my daughter Sara was driving down from Maine with her partner Julie, and I had my second lobster meal of the day. The lobsters were OK, but I had never met Julie before and she seems quite nice.


The two of them will be joining us in Vanuatu in September.

The next day I wandered around Shrewsbury visiting some of my old haunts. This included a long walk with Sara.


This is the house I lived in from birth through age 2. I have no memory of it, but it now seems a little small for 2 adults and 5 children. Heck, it seems around the same size as Sophie.


This is Saint Mary’s, the catholic grammar school that I attended from first through eighth grades. I even worked as janitor there for a couple of years, cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms after school. When Sara and I walked past last week, there was a funeral taking place. In addition to being a janitor, I also used to be an altar boy and loved weekday funerals because it gave me a chance to get out of class.


After the school, we walked up the hill to visit the public library. My mom told me they bought a house in the center of town so that we could walk there every day. I did so.


Here is the house I lived in for 16 years. It’s up the street form the library and looks WAY fancier today than it did when I was a kid. The woman who bought it from my parents 14 years ago installed things like the brick driveway, iron railings, lampposts, rooftop patios, and an addition out back. When I lived there it was a great home for my parents, their nine children, and my grandmother. It also required a lot of work, and we had to do chores every day. We did so because it was the right thing to do and also because there was an occasional threat of a wooden spoon.


It was also the source of a LOT of fun. I wrote last year about how we had a pig roast in Tonga with some other boats. Well here is a photo of my parent’s first pig roast in our back yard. They used a fieldstone barbecue that must have been there since the house was built over a hundred years ago. (Please note the wooden keg of beer next to a rhubarb patch in the background of the photo.)


As part our reconnaissance mission, Sara and I snuck into the church parking lot next door and were pleased to see that the old pig roast barbecue is still there.IMG_1399

After visiting the old homestead, Sara and I walked another couple of blocks to visit my grandmother’s grave. She grew up in Newfoundland, which is now part of Canada. The grave is made from granite. This is where my parents will be buried when they die.


As part of her enscription, she has this ball of yarn and crossed knitting needles carved into the headstone. I am not sure what my parents will want as their headstone icons, and I should probably ask them.

OK, I hate being chided about anything, especially going off topic in a blog. Please forgive me for sharing this little walk down memory lane. Let’s get back to food.


That afternoon, Sara and went to Wegman’s, a local gourmet mega-supermarket in the nearby town of Northborough, in order to stock up for a family barbecue that night. In general, I found Wegman’s to be 3 times the size of the largest grocery stores in New Zealand with food that was half the price. I think most people in the U.S. don’t appreciate how inexpensive food (and beer) is there compared to most of the rest of the world. I was a little overwhelmed, especially after spending 6 months in New Zealand where food is expensive. We wound up getting 6 racks of ribs (at $4 a pound!), vegetables, berries, beer, wine, shortcake, whipping cream, and other assorted barbecue stuff. I cooked the ribs in tinfoil on the grill for 5 hours at ~140 degrees F, and they were falling-off-the-bone awesome.

(Jenna just pointed out that you can buy onions here in Fiji for $4 a pound).


The next stop on what was quickly becoming my stateside eating tour was the Boston steakhouse Grill 23 for a Wednesday night pre-graduation celebratory dinner with Max. Back when I worked in the business world, it seems like I would have meals like this once a week. What you are looking at here are 10 oz. filet mignons with buttered mashed potatoes and sides of mac and cheese, asparagus, mushrooms — all preceded by New England seafood chowder and followed by a bourbon apricot crisp. (I also feel like I weighed like 69 pounds more back then compared to know … and “he still lives” to tell about it!)

Anyway, in case you are keeping track, in my first three days in New England I had lobster rolls, lobsters, ribs, and a decadent filet mignon restaurant meal.

For the morning of Max’s graduation I was still able to squeeze into my suit and head over to Harvard Yard with Max’s girlfriend Becca to watch the morning commencement exercise.


Unfortunately, a proud parent standing next to us decided to record the entire 2 hour parade ceremony on her iPad and blocked our view of Aretha Franklin (and lots of other people) as they walked by. Later on the Law School had a luncheon ceremony where they awarded individual diplomas to all of their graduates. The boxed lunch contained a grilled chicken breast with fried plantains, fruit, and rice. It was excellent, Sophie-like food on a beautiful late spring New England day.


Needless to say I was very proud of my son.

Later that evening we prepared for a celebration barbecue at Max’s apartment on the Cambridge-Somerville line. Earlier in the day his sister and his mom drove out to a German butcher for some sausages, a very Utzschneider thing to do. We had all of our Boston cousins coming over and wanted to celebrate in style with 2 types of bratwurst, Nurenburger wurst, Weiss wurst, and excellent sauerkraut.


To kick things off, Max’s cousin Danny, also known as “the wingman” for his ability to be there when you need him whether it’s a bar or an Oktoberfest tent, took care of the fire. In real life Danny is a biologist in Switzerland.


Once the coals were ready, the brats went on. Here we go again …

While the meat was cooking I took a moment to peruse the bookshelf immediately inside Max’s door. Here is what I found.

IMG_1487 IMG_1486 IMG_1485 IMG_1484 IMG_1483 IMG_1482 IMG_1481

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Max is going to be a labor lawyer. Like I said, I am very proud of him.

IMG_1493Soon the sausage was ready and the beer was flowing. Here is Max and my brother John talking about life with an admiring Sara in the background. John is a successful corporate lawyer, and Max is, well, Max. Nothing like beer and sausage to help bridge any type of ideological and generational divides. If only real life could work this way.

It was a fun party, we stayed up late, and I even got to see my niece Caroline and her fiancé Alex. They are getting married in Maine in July, and the Sophie crew plans to be there. Here is Caroline’s ring.


But all good things have to come to an end, so on Friday morning I woke up at 6:00 in order to take my eating tour down to Washington DC for my 30th college reunion. I said goodbye to Danny and Sara and headed on my way.


Fortunately I made my flight and was at my hotel in Arlington just in time for lunch. I met up with some of my old Georgetown friends and we decided to walk around DC for a bit. Phil suggested a butcher that sells really good deli sandwiches, so off we went. We ordered our lunch, and it seemed to take an extremely long time to be prepared. We soon would understand why. IMG_1508Phil and his wife Alice ordered a “4 Meat Grinder”, and the result was a sandwich almost a foot and a half long and weighing nearly 5 pounds. (“Grinder” is a northeast US term for a foot and a half long, 5 pound sandwich). This thing was even more impressive when it was laid out on a picnic table.


I decided to be much more subdued and ordered a simple pastrami sandwich, one that I agreed to split with my classmate Laura. Well, this is what HALF a sandwich looked like:

I think the same people who measured John’s lobster roll measured this sandwich. My guess is that this half weighed in at 2-3 pounds, which is more than what we would cook for dinner for Sophie’s crew of 4 back on the boat. But the meat had been wood smoked to perfection.

Of course I ate all of it. It was delicious.

Later that afternoon we walked around our old neighborhood and stopped off at the various houses we lived in. Here is a photo of me, James, and Maureen (who joined us in New Zealand in February) hanging out on the stoop of the “2114” house we lived in for 2 years.  The house is looking much fancier today than it did back in the 80’s.


It was a fun walk.

Later that night there was a class reunion reception that ran late. The food was reasonable: sliders, salmon skewers, salad skewers, and what seemed to be fried mac and cheese cakes. (I skipped those but overall I was surprised I could move after the pastrami).  But it was a lot of fun to reconnect with many people I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

We all stayed out until 3:00 AM, but I was able to wake up in time to make my 8:30 AM flight to Boston where I hooked up with Max, Becca, Sara, Danny and my father for a dumpling lunch in Boston’s Chinatown. Then Max and I headed for the airport and Fiji (where I am right now.)

So over the course of the week we had lobster rolls, lobsters, ribs, steak, sausages, pastrami ballast, cocktail food, and dumplings. I saw family, friends, and a memorable academic ceremony. I’m full and I am tired and I am glad to be back on Sophie.

At the bar at Logan Airport there was a display advertising Fiji Water.


Since we actually were flying to Fiji, we decided to pass.

Still pretty lucky.